Joe Vann won the $300,000 Illinois Derby by 4-1/4 lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher on Saturday at Hawthorne.
Ridden by Florent Geroux, Joe Vann ran 1 1-8 miles in 1:51.91 and paid $12.60, $6.80 and $5.20 at 5-1 odds.
"I was only about a half-length off the leader. When I asked him at the quarter pole, he just took off," Geroux said. "The thing that helped me was that I watched a couple of his races. In one of his maiden races, at Saratoga last August, he beat Mucho Macho Man who could be one of the top Kentucky Derby contenders."
Joe Vann earned $167,400 for the win, boosting his career earnings to $217,615. He isn't nominated to the Triple Crown series, although Zoebear and The Fed Eased are.
Joe Vann had won his previous two starts by a combined 91/2 lengths, but he lost three others by more than 76.
Zoebear returned $8.80 and $6.20, while The Fed Eased was another half-length back in third and paid $6.20 to show. Sour was fourth.
Watch Me Go, the 2-1 favorite, went four-wide deep into the far turn before fading to sixth in the 12-horse field. Each horse carried 122 pounds.
"He was training like a monster," said Luis Garcia, who rode Watch Me Go. "On the backstretch he was off the bit a little bit; he's not like that, he's usually on the bit. When I asked him he didn't have anything. He acted like he was going to do it, but he just stayed even."
Pletcher's top Kentucky Derby candidate, Uncle Mo, finished a surprising third in the Wood Memorial in New York, losing for the first time.